Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Brothers" (Ep. 4.21)

-- A fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Something sinister is rising...

And I hate to be all spoilery, but it's the return of the brother of Savage Opress. What? Don't know who that is? Seriously? Because it ought to be pretty obvious.

But he's dead!
Exactly Obi-Wan's reaction.

To be honest, I've never been able to decide how I feel about the fact they decided to bring Darth Maul back. If I'm remembering correctly, my initial reaction was something akin to disgust. I mean, being cut in half is pretty final, even for a Sith.

However, I think I softened on the whole thing over time because the story ended up being pretty good.
I think.
Also, he looks pretty cool.

Most of this episode is taken up by Savage's quest to find Maul.
And I think there's a continuity issue with this episode, but I'm not going to go back and check the other episode to try to figure it out.
Look, it's been a really busy month, and I'm just not doing it. At least I'm not doing until it starts bugging me enough to do it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Education Divide, Not a Myth

Talking about education is not something I'm unfamiliar with. Aside from the fact that I've worked as a teacher both in the South and in California, I did a whole series about education as it relates to my younger son, my middle child.

In relation to the recent election and Trump's victory, there has been a lot of reporting about the uneducated, or under educated, white people who voted for Trump. Not to mention that Republicans, conservatives, tend to fall into that same group. Sorry, the data (science!) shows the truth: Conservatives tend to be less intelligent and/or less educated than liberals. Maybe that's why conservatives also tend to hate science so much.

Look, I'm not saying that there are NO smart Republicans/conservatives out there but, on the whole, they tend to be the duller knives in the drawer.

Yes, it's all well and good to talk about studies and data and science, but your opinion is just as good as my facts, right? Well, let me give you a practical example of how all of this plays out in the real world. What I'm about to talk about is NOT science; it is my personal experience and, while subjective, it's also an objective look back at my past.

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in the South, and I also grew up in the Church. Like all typical church kids, I had two groups of friends: the people I went to school with and the people in my youth group at church. In some ways, both of these groups were atypical.

First, church kids are always atypical. The real church kids, at any rate. I'm not talking about the ones who go on Sunday mornings because their parents (moms) make them; I'm talking about the youth group kids who are involved in all the stuff: Sunday morning, Sunday night, midweek youth group, even choir. Those kids are a fairly small population from any high school.

However, my high school, as I've mentioned before, was also atypical. It was one of the first magnet schools in the nation and was (and still is) the top ranked high school in Louisiana. So, yeah, Louisiana: That's not saying much. BUT! At a time when Louisiana was ranked somewhere around 48th in education (not that it's not still down there), my high school was one of the top ranked high schools in the NATION. Top 10 for years. I think it was #3 at some point, even.

Needless to say, I didn't have the typical Southern education, and neither did any of the other teenagers I went to high school with.

Surely I have a point beyond bragging, right? I do! And this is it:

Of the people I'm still in touch with (more than a few) with whom I went to church, the ones who went to regular high schools and received a typical Louisiana education, well, they pretty much all voted for Trump. The exceptions are all female. Every dude I went to church with, every under-educated one of them, voted for Trump.

Now, of the people I went to high school with... Wait, let me drive this point home: You had to be smart to get into this school to begin with and, even so, half of the freshman class EVERY YEAR failed out because they couldn't cut it. So we, at my high school, were both on the smarter end of the scale and receiving a superior education.

Now, of the people I went to high school with with whom I am still in touch (more than a few), nearly all of them supported Clinton. I know of two exceptions: one male, one female (but she was also a church kid, and that kind of conservatism tends to skew things (I say that from my own experience)).

I could go on with this, but I think it's pretty clear. And, sure, some of the people in my youth group went on to higher education, but many of them did not. Those that did didn't go to universities that anyone would consider top notch, and I'm pretty sure, for most people, if you haven't encountered an education that makes you think, requires you to think, before you're out of high school, college is too late.

The truth is that conservatism is based around accepting what you're told without question, Questioning is the enemy. Questioning things that come your way can overcome confirmation bias, and Republicans/conservatives are much more susceptible to confirmation bias than liberals. That's why 85-90% of the fake news during the election was pro-Trump/anti-Clinton. One of the biggest peddlers of fake news stories during the election said they tried, also, on Democrats but just couldn't get Democrats to take the bait.

Look, I'm not trying to offend anyone, not this time. If you feel offended, it's probably because you know this is you. That's not my fault. I'm not calling anyone stupid. [Okay, there is ONE person I would gladly call stupid, but I've already done that, and I don't think he reads my blog anyway.] To some extent, intellect is a choice, because intellectual curiosity is a choice. YOU can choose to not just accept the shit you're eating. YOU can choose to educate yourself.

Stop reading and listening to Right Wing propaganda. Find the news and information that is objective, the places reporting FACTS, not opinions, and follow that, instead. Listen, the only reason the media is "liberal" is because the Right is SO FAR RIGHT that everything else looks liberal. Facts and data and SCIENCE are not "liberal;" they just are. So...

If you don't want the "Coastal Liberal Elites" looking down on you and thinking you're stupid (and sometimes calling you stupid), start educating yourselves on the actual data. And, you know, maybe read the Constitution and look at the laws that Trump is already violating.

Make a difference.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day One

Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018

Today is so boring. The internet isn’t working. No one’s internet is working. Neither is the TV.

That’s not exactly true.

The radio says the internet is fine. It says it’s just parts of the internet like Google and Facebook and Netflix. So none of the important parts of the internet are working, not even Twitter, and neither is the… I don’t remember what it’s called. The thing that sends you to the websites you want to go to. I can’t even sneak any porn, because porn isn’t working, either.

Supposedly, if you know how to tell your computer to go directly to the website you want to go, if it’s one that is working, something about ports or something, your computer will do it. Because the Internet works. For local stuff mostly. But who even knows how to do that sort of thing.

Which means the internet is broken.

Technically, the TV works, too. If I choose the antennae option, I can watch the local stations. Except they’re all fuzzy because we don’t have an antennae. No one has antennaes. Why would anyone have an antennae? Old people maybe. There’s nothing on local channels anyway. Who even watches those either?

Old people.

My dad is mad because there was no paper. No newspaper. Because no one gets newspapers anymore because why would you get a newspaper when everything is online? Just that old guy down the street gets a paper, and he probably doesn’t even have a computer is why. He’s mean, anyway, and it’s probably because he doesn’t have a computer. It hasn’t even been one day, and I’m mad about not having a computer.

But the old guy didn’t get his newspaper today. I know because he accused me of taking it just because I was walking down the street. I was walking down the street because Mom yelled at me because I was bugging her about the computer, and Dad yelled at me because there was no newspaper for him to go buy. So my dad was mad because he couldn’t find a newspaper to buy and the old guy was mad because he didn’t get his, so called me names and accused me of stealing it.

Why would I even want some stupid newspaper?

Then the radio said there wasn’t a newspaper for today at all. Because of the internet. Is the newspaper just for people who don’t have computers? If they don’t have the internet, they can’t get news, so why have them if you have a computer?

Mom has been listening to the news on the radio all day, so I can’t even turn on any music. She keeps telling me to read a book or something. Or study. Find a way to occupy myself.

At least she quit telling me to go outside and play. Like I’m a little kid. It’s too cold and wet. And she yelled at me for getting mud all over the floor when I did go out. Because I thought it might be better outside than inside because I was just getting yelled out inside, but then I got yelled at outside, too, by the old guy, and it was raining a little bit, so outside was worse.

There’s no one to talk to on the phone, either, because the phone keeps telling me that all the lines are busy. I suppose that means it’s also working but without working. Like everything else today.

Except the radio. Which Mom won’t let me use.

Today sucks.

I tried to find a book, but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. While I was looking, the President was on the radio. Not live or anything, but he recorded a message. He wasn’t live because of there not being any internet. Well, not because of the internet but because of whatever is causing the problem with the internet. He wants it back, too. He’s mad about not having Twitter. He said it’s a disaster.

He's also blaming it on China. Maybe. Mom says he thinks it’s China but there’s no proof. He didn’t say it’s some fat guy in his mother’s basement, though, not this time. He also didn’t say it’s the Russians, but I think he’s scared to say that. He keeps making deals with Russia and they keep changing them. Just like Darth Vader in Empire.

Trump said we’re at war and we’re going to destroy them… just as soon as we figure out who we’re at war with.

I hope it’s just a technical problem, though, like a line being down somewhere. I guess it would have to be a big line. Maybe a satellite crashed. But they’d probably know if that happened.

Now I’m bored AND scared, and I just wish I could go on Facebook or something and see what’s going on with my friends. If I could do that, though, there wouldn’t be a problem, and I wouldn’t be bored or scared.

What if we are at war?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

La La Land (a movie review post)

Let's have an honest moment: I really don't like Damien Chazelle. It's not a personal thing (Probably. Since I haven't met him, that's hard to say, but I did hear him on the radio, and he sounds like an okay guy other than the fact that he can't write and, so, should stop doing that.), but his movies need to go away now. (See my review of Whiplash.) No, I don't care that other people seem to like them. Actually, that's part of the problem. Chazelle's movies are like the Hershey's bars of chocolate: They're fine if that's all the chocolate you have access to but, once you've had good chocolate, you'll realize that Hershey's is kind of waxy and you won't want it again as anything other than a last resort.

Except I never want to see Whiplash again, even as a last resort.

Don't get me wrong, La La Land is a fun movie. Mostly. Fun in a cotton candy kind of way: It's all fluff and no substance. I like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling just fine, and they do a fine job, but they never really gel. The movies feels like you're watching two people acting as if they are acting they are in love and having a relationship, which adds to the cotton candy-ness of the whole experience. None of it feels real. The whole movies feels as if it's about to dissolve under scrutiny.

I think the thing that most bothers me about the movie is the "message." Sure, it's an actual message, but it's a message that's endemic to our culture of positivity and to Hollywood in particular, so
1. It hardly seems like making a movie about this message anymore is worthwhile (especially since neither of the main characters have to go through any actual hardship (at least not within the action of the movie)).
2. It's a false message.
Oh, the message?
If you just follow your dream, if you're true to it to the exclusion of all else, your dream will come true. Even if it means giving up the "love of your life."

Maybe it's just me, but I'm really sick of that message, because it's not a true message. The problem, though, is that if someone doesn't succeed at achieving their dream, people take the stance, "Well, you just didn't try hard enough. You must have let yourself be distracted by other things." It's like the whole positive attitude with cancer patients, breast cancer especially. There's this pervasive belief that if someone just stays positive that she will beat the cancer. If she dies? She wasn't positive enough. The tragedy? Studies are showing that people who rely on positivity have a lower survival rate. (You can see my review of Bright-sided for more on this. Then go read that book.)

So, yes, the hype this movie is receiving makes me a bit mad. Probably more than a bit. It's so undeserving, especially in relation to all of the other movies, right now. Look, it's not that I have anything against people following their dreams. I'm all for it. I encourage it. However, this idea that if you are just steadfast in following your dream then it will definitely come true is a lie. Many people, people who are doggedly determined in following their dream, never see those things come true, because that's not all that it's about. To lead people to believe that it is is not just wrong, it's cruel. It leads people to believe that, somehow, if their dream doesn't come true then the fault is somehow inside of them, that they did something wrong, when, actually, they may have done everything right.

On top of all of that is this idea that Sebastian is some kind of white savior for jazz. Only he really appreciates it's true form, and only he can save it from extinction. If he can only manage to get his jazz club open. You know, if you "build" it, they will come and all that... wait for it... jazz. I find the whole thing kind of insulting. I mean, not only does he appreciate it more, but he plays it better. So, you know, you have all of these great black musicians in the movie, jazz musicians, but it's the lone white guy who is going to save them.

Give me a fucking break.

So, yes, I don't think La La Land deserved any of the Golden Globes it won, but Chazelle, especially, didn't deserve the awards for screenplay and directing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Bounty" (Ep. 4.20)

-- Who we are never changes; who we think we are does.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Asajj Ventress is alone and on the run after Dooku's second or more attempt to have her killed. Trying to both survive and lay low, she ends up in Boba Fett's gang of bounty hunters. Despite his young age (and lack of Mandalorian armor), Fett is already in charge. Both Bossk and Dengar are in the gang.

This episode has ninjas. Or close enough.

And Simon Pegg does the voice of Dengar.

As opposed to the previous arc, which included a lot of bounty hunters who were fairly superfluous to what was going on, each member of Fett's team has a place and a use. They didn't feel like mere window dressing. As such, this was a really good episode. We get to see them all in action and see some of their personalities. It probably helps that we already have some familiarity to Bossk and Dengar, and it's nice that they are not just standing around in the background.

It's a good episode. Part of an arc, yet able to stand on its own. We get to see more of Fett's evolution, which is interesting. I hope they some day do a solo Fett movie but, until then, it's nice to have his background explored somewhat in Clone Wars.

Also, Ventress may not be quite as mercenary as she would like to think.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hidden Figures (a movie review post)

I know that I just got through saying that I had found my pick for Best Picture winner this year and that I didn't think that would change. Well, I was wrong. I'm glad I specified that I hadn't seen all the likely nominees yet, and even I am surprised that I'm going with Hidden Figures over Arrival. That should tell you just how good Hidden Figures is because Arrival is in just about every way my kind of movie. What can I say? I like sci-fi in my movies.

Or, maybe, I just like science, fiction or not, and Hidden Figures, also, pushes the science button.

Hidden Figures feels to me like a necessary movie for our time. But it's also just a great movie. Great and necessary is a combination that is difficult to overlook.

We have this pervasive view that every important accomplishment not just in the United States but in the world and throughout history has been done by white men -- I mean, we even hold the view, somehow, that Jesus was a white dude; how fucked up is that? -- and that's just not true. It's not even mostly true. And, yet, here we are.

Would we have gone to the moon without the contributions of these three women? Probably. Would we have done it when we did? Almost certainly not. Would the Russians have gotten there first? Maybe.  And, no, it doesn't matter that they have never been. They cut their program back once we had taken a lead that they could not overcome but, if we had never taken that lead, they very well may have retained theirs. Katherine Johnson was instrumental in us taking the lead away from Russia.

But why should we care about one individual mathematician among so many? It's not like we know the names of all of the faceless white dudes in white shirts working for NASA at the time, right? However, if you had looked into that room of faceless white dudes in white shirts, you would have noticed one person who didn't seem to belong, and that is significant. One lone African American. One lone woman. The same person. That she was allowed into that room at all is significant because that means that she was extraordinary, and she deserves recognition.

All three of the women do.
So it was way past time for this movie.

Add to the great story a top-notch cast, and you have what is a wonderful movie. There were seriously great performances all around. That said, two in particular stand out to me:

The first is Janelle Monae (also appearing in Moonlight). She is feisty and fiery as Mary Jackson, and I actually wish there was more of her in the movie. It's a completely different kind of role than she had in Moonlight, too, so it's cool to see her range in these two movies. In fact, I didn't even recognize her as the same actress while I was watching the movie. It's really a stand out performance.

And I hate to highlight a white dude from a movie like this, but Costner's performance as Al Harrison was... well, I'm not going to say it was amazing, but it might be Costner's best role ever. Harrison is an interesting character (which is all I can say since I don't know anything about the actual person), the only one of the group that Katherine Johnson is assigned to who appears to not be racist. He's just oblivious. But when he does take notice of the racism happening around him, he does his best to smash it, sometimes literally. At one point, Costner delivers what seems to me would be an awkward line -- something like, "At NASA, we all pee the same color." -- but he does it with all seriousness and sincerity, and it's a great moment in the film.

Most of all, though, what sells me on this film as the Best Picture is that I would say everyone should see this movie. I wouldn't say that about Arrival, because I know a lot of people who, for many different reasons, wouldn't get the movie. Or enjoy it. It's like my view of Tolkien: I believe everyone should read The Hobbit, but The Lord of the Rings is certainly not for everyone.

So, yes, go see Hidden Figures. If it doesn't give you a fresh perspective on racial inequality in the United States, there is, beyond any doubt, something wrong with you.

[Again this week, the movie review will serve as my political post.]